“I went to the library and cried in the bookstacks today knowing I wouldn’t be back for a long time. Did I tell you the library is one of my happy places?” I wrote these words to my new email pen-pal – emailing being the only way to make new friends during a provincial shutdown amidst a global pandemic. It was mid-December and the province had just announced a new set of restrictions which included closing libraries and community centres.
That day I frantically perused the shelves for anything I might enjoy reading – murder mysteries, a dark humorous story about a dysfunctional family, a coming-of-age story – it would be harder to choose books after the library closed and reverted back to curbside pickup. What am I going to do? I thought to myself as I walked out of my happy place hugging my bag full of books knowing there was nothing else left open anymore…
I moved to Stouffville March 15, 2020 and in the first few weeks of the first provincial shutdown I was busy unpacking boxes and eager to explore my new community. I was excited to venture through all the nature trails and to walk around the streets of the old town. The novelty of my new community kept things exciting – for a while.
Weeks went by and there was no good news coming from the province. What was happening? I tried my best to keep myself and my kids busy. I ordered books online and sighed at the amount of money I’d be spending. I waited and waited for weeks and weeks as my packages didn’t arrive. Things were getting grim.
We need books! I thought in desperation as my kids got more and more bored; tired of going out for walks and playing Monopoly.
As spring slowly shifted to summer, we received our first piece of good news. The Stouffville library was offering curbside pickup! Hooray! I hurried online to set up an account and immediately placed some books on hold. Books! Books! We have books! The world already seemed like a better place and I felt a great love for all the people who made the Whitchurch-Stouffville library curbside pickup a reality.
I checked the website for the library in my old neighbourhood. Perhaps they too offered curbside pickup? But they did not. Having a much larger network to accommodate it wasn’t until well into the summer before they were able to coordinate that sort of service. I was grateful for my new community – a community that was intimate and able to give me what I craved most. Books.
My kids and I often walked down to the library in those early days of curbside pickup – the librarian at the door to the community centre would recognize us when we gave her our name – “Oh, yes, you’ve been here a few times.” she’d said pleasantly. I smiled behind my mask.
In January, as my kids and I slogged our way through a second provincial shutdown and virtual school we were comforted by our regular walks to the library as a new book became available. “Is anything ready for pickup today?” my son would ask looking forward to the excitement of another installment from the Wings of Fire series.
Walking to the library has become part of our routine. If we’re not picking up books, we’re bring some back attempting to avoid more late fees (but I don’t even mind the late fees; they’re giving me somewhere to go). I’ve learned that one of my former neighbours works at the library and I look forward to catching up with her whenever she happens to be minding the door watching for eager curbside picker-uppers such as myself.
“What is it about the library that gives you that happy feeling?” my pen-pal asked in response to my email. Why do I love the library so much, I wondered? Is it the calm and peace of browsing through books? The anticipation of finding my next great read? The knowledge gained from new ideas? Maybe it’s all those things.
As the province begins its vaccine rollout I look forward to the day where I can wander, mask free, through community events that up to now seem mythical in nature. Until that day, I will continue to look forward to the visits with my new and old librarian friends. Standing on the sidewalk, or in the bookstacks, I’m still at my home away from home.